Film4 Foresight Shorts first published by SIght & Sound, December 2021
There are notable exceptions to be found in, for example, the Afrofuturist movement, but science fiction has predominantly been a white genre. Film4’s Foresight sets out to redress the imbalance by offering five short British sci-fi films which have been made by black and brown artists, and which focus on black and brown characters and experiences, thus putting “the race into space” (to reappropriate a phrase from Akinola Davies’ off-planet entry X US), and, as contributing director Nadia Latif puts it, “reimagining the future to include people like us.”
The commissioning ethos, according to Film4 executive producer David Kimbangi, was to keep the brief loose, “letting each team tap into whatever themes resonated with them.” Latif and her writer Omar El-Khairy relished being “totally free and empowered” to do as they pleased. “We wanted”, she says, “to take a very familiar trope of the genre and spin it through an unusual protagonist. We settled on mind and body control almost immediately because I was interested in situating a film somewhere between sci-fi and body horror – the idea of losing control of your body is very scary. And instantly we knew the protagonist had to be a Muslim man – because it became the perfect vehicle for talking about the scrutiny that Muslim bodies and communities are under, and also the lack of agency they have over the public narrative and perception of their faith.” The result is They Heard Him Shout Allahu Akbar, a post-9/11 update of the Ludovico Treatment from A Clockwork Orange (1971).
“There’s no doubt people are sometimes turned off by stories that directly question the reality they exist in.” says Jeremy Ngatho Cole. “In cases like this science fiction can be a useful tool to open discussion and widen understanding of contemporary experiences.” His short Twice As Good – my personal favourite – uses a time travel premise to allegorise the parental lecture (encoded in the title) that he says “every black or brown person I’ve asked has had… as have many people who just don’t happen to be white heterosexual men.” For here a struggling single mother prevents her young son from seeing his own extraordinary future so as to ensure, paradoxically, that he does not embrace a complacency that, as a black boy in the UK, he can ill afford.
“Although the perception of the race to space is optically being colonised by the super-rich, it is once again being built off the labour of those who work in their factories globally,” says Akinola Davies, whose X US shows black interstellar travellers very much along for the ride in laying out humanity’s offworld future, even if they are still being forced to the back of the bus (or ‘shuttle’). Finally there are two very different post-apocalyptic shorts. “My hope is that after audiences have seen and experienced this film that they realise the most important thing is that collectively we need each other and that the planet and we cannot survive without this realisation,” says Adeyemi Michael of The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be, which rewrites the Rip van Winkle myth for an era of cryopreservation and climate change, with healing and loneliness its central themes. Meanwhile Elliott Barnes-Worrell’s Rashomon-like Digging shows a post-disaster family disinterring lost memories – as well as fruit and veg – from their subsistence allotment, and delivers a nourishing yield of what the director describes as “food, hope, stories, and memory: things that, no matter how far we stretch, we can all identify with.” In this eclectic anthology, Barnes-Worrell’s is certainly the cheeriest, finding bold, bright and black community even in future dystopia.